A Holey Holy Day

Another year has passed and here we are at Christmas, the first of our holy days as Christians followed by Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  December 25th, a holy day of celebrating the Prince of Peace’s entry into this fallen world as a pure and sinless babe, is precluded by all sorts of celebratory rituals.

But, what happens when the holy days are holey days?  What are we to do when we are wholly consumed with loss-related grief?  How do we wade through the fun and fanfare when our feet are encased in the cement of profound sadness?

In three short lines, poet W.S Merwin exquisitely gives voice to the saturation this kind of sorrow brings in his work, Separation.

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

And so it is on these holidays.  Attempted merriment is colored by thick threads of loss. Our hearts are threadbare and frayed at the seams.  The tapestry of our lives is rent.  Our vision is clouded by tears. Our holiday is hollow.  We are riddled with holes.

This year, our fake fir stood in the corner for days, completely unadorned.  It mirrored my feelings regarding the upcoming holiday.  I, too, felt stripped of anything celebratory; bare of anything resembling peace, joy and good tidings.  Imitation me, just like my tree. If it wasn’t for a visit from our grandbabies, I would have left the bare tree in the corner as a symbol of my emptiness.  Perhaps, a self-indulgent homage to my distress.

Even when it came time to hang the ornaments and light up the branches, I wasn’t ready for the flood of emotions that came when my grands brought me ornament after ornament with questions about the history of each one.  We were hanging poignant reminders of better times on garland adorned branches.   Uninvited grief during holidays is just like the Grinch, it can steal our Christmas joy.  No matter how many times I turned up the volume on the Christmas carols, I was unable to drown out the song of sorrow in my soul.

No matter who or what is absent.  No matter who or what is lost, holidays are poignant reminders of what was or what should have been.  Memories usher in a longing, and the gathering of families and friends can bring a sharp and painful focus on the holes in our lives.  Even if you haven’t experienced some kind of loss, these days of “celebrations” are filled with expectations that many times go unmet causing all sorts of heartache.  Sometimes, it’s simply the effort of getting along with the prickly pears in our circles can rob us of the joy we desire to experience at Christmas.

How do we turn our hole-ness into wholeness?  How do we recapture some of that childlike awe that the birth of our savior should bring?  How do we go from moving through the motions to experiencing true joy in the midst of gaping holes?

Maybe, we can look at the Christmas story from a little different angle. Let’s depart from the Mary and Joseph scene and take a look at what Jesus’ birth meant to his Father, our Father.  The day that teenager gave birth to our Lord and Savior was the beginning of a life lived solely to suffer and die on our behalf.  Every Christmas Day was one year closer to his betrayal, suffering, and tortuous death.  Every Christmas Day marked the moment at which God gave him up to be sacrificed…for you, for me.

I think our father knows Christmas grief.

I think our father knows the heartache of the empty chair, the empty arms, the empty house, the empty bank account, the health gone bad, the hardness of a holey holiday.  He simply knows.

He doesn’t ask us to revel in his knowing, but he does ask us to rest in that.  Don’t let this be cliché:

Come to me, all who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

Peace can be painful and joy can be muted, and that is simply okay.  Christmas can be laced with blue threads instead of gold and that is okay, too.  If this season’s tears outweigh its laughter, let it be.  He knows.

You Yourself have recorded my wanderings. Put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your records?

Psalm 56:8

We will experience wholeness when we rest in his knowing and give our grief to Him. Our surrendered suffering will bring glory to Him and peace to us. Thankfully, we don’t have to figure out how that happens.  He’s got this!  When allowed, His presence begins to seep into every hole to the point of overflowing!

We must be careful to not measure joy by the world’s standards.  Painful, productive peace is not promoted in this be-happy-at-all cost society.  For Christ followers, tears and laughter commingle,  joy and pain join hands,  grief and God meet… in blessed ways the world can not know JUST as it did for our Lord that first Christmas morn.   Let that be your Christmas awe.

So, dear one, hold on.  Cry out to The Healer to fill your holes and rest well in His knowing this Christmas season.   I leave you with this:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 Romans 15:13

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When God says No

What is your no?

Maybe a dream job?  A relationship?  A desired goal?  Maybe it’s that negative pregnancy test.  Maybe it’s the confirmation of disease  delivered in the hard words on a pathology report or bottom line of the MRI?   The slow shake of a doctor’s head?

No is never easy.  No angers us.  No disappoints us.  No devastates us.

Sometimes the reason for the No will show itself in time, and we are blessed by the insight and wisdom we gain through being able to capture the whole process in our minds.  We can see exactly why God said no and we are all about praising Him for working it out on our behalf.  Much of the time; however, the bigger plan for the greater good is cloaked and in this life, goes unrevealed.   Unrevealed because the beauty in the No would be lost on us.  It’s infinite, extraordinary, eternal and we are finite, ordinary, and so temporal.   Yes, it would be lost on us.

I would be amiss to not address what I will call the Consequential No.  We are sinful, “stiff-necked” people. We come from the original “don’t tell me no” folks.  Some of the No’s we get are a direct result of our poor choices and/or the sin of others. While God wants to lavish us with all things amazing, we continue to exercise our free will and that gets in the way.  Natural consequences in this natural world result in a hard, cold No!

This is not heaven and there will be injustice and heartache and plenty of No.  This is just our temporary home.

It’s the No that comes after prayer, seeking, searching….. The No that comes after we have been obedient to resign our desire to God’s will.  That’s the No that we mourn over.  The one we long to find understanding in.  We think if we can just find God’s reason, it will somehow be an easier pill to swallow.  That is the No we have to resolve before it dissolves our spiritual and emotional well-being.  So what do we do with this heavy-weighted No?

First, know this:

You’re not at war with No, you are at war with Acceptance.

Secondly:

The burden isn’t on God to provide you with detailed, palatable explanations. The burden is on you to eventually, after appropriately grieving the No, acquiesce.  Please hear my heart – There is a time for grief, for honest conversations with the Lord,  for torrents of tears, even for anger, but only a time.  Eventually, living in that state will destroy you.  

We have some options.  We can throw ourselves on the ground kicking and hitting like a 2 year old.  We can scream until our voices fail.  We can even bang our heads on the floor, but none of that changes the No.  What it does do is further hurt us and drag those in close proximity into the scalding heat of our rage.    After the ashes from the volcanic eruption settle, No is still No.

We can beg God.  Moses did.  He got one of those consequential No’s.  A devastating blow.  In an incident during his 40 years of leading the whiny, stubborn, demanding Israelites through war after war, hardship after hardship,  He disobeyed God, bringing glory to himself instead of the Almighty.  God right then and there said No seeing the Promised Land for you and your brother.  Nope.  The time came when Moses begged God to change his mind.  “That is enough,” the Lord said. “Do not speak to my any more about this matter”.  (Deuteronomy 3:26)  No was still No.  Moses died only seeing the Promised Land from a mountain top miles and miles away.

We can run from God.  Jonah did.  He ended up in the belly of a whale before doing exactly what God had asked him to do in the first place.  In his case, Go was still Go.  Jonah’s No was an answer to the old do I have a choice question.

We can test God.  Gideon did.  If you are really going to do what you say you will Lord, I need a sign, and then another.   We can do that.  Intellectually, we can find every reason why blind trust is for the stupid when really, a simple mind is exactly what we need. Choose trusting not testing.

We can imitate our Lord.  Knowing all that was bearing down upon him, Jesus went into prayer.  Let his words settle into the corners of your mind and the hurting parts of your heart…”My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”……. “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  (Matthew 26:38,39).  No begging for a different outcome.  No running away from his purpose.  No testing the trustworthiness of the Father’s plan.  Acceptance.

Acceptance is your burden, not the answer No.  Pick it up, carry it, embrace it.  Offer it to others.  Show them how to do the same.

Acceptance must be invited.  It is the beginning of God being glorified through your No.

Acceptance is letting go of control, even when there are no answers.

Acceptance is an offering of praise.  When I am at the end of my angst over the No, when I’m exhausted from the search for answers that cannot be found,  it is then I can rest in Him.  It is there where I find my peace.

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.  When you pass through the waters,  I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through  the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.  Isaiah43:1b, 2